Matching Lin-terest

jeremy-lin-300Can we admit one thing? Everybody got this wrong.  Jeremy Lin is now a member of the Houston Rockets, and the battle lines are being drawn.  But if you really stop to look at it, there’s blame to be laid on all sides.  First things first – let’s look at the player.

Jeremy Lin is a point guard who has explosive speed, a decent jump shot, spotty court vision, and makes sometimes baffling decisions with the basketball.  His numbers were good – he averaged 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 2 steals in the 25 games that he started for the Knicks before he went down with a knee injury in late March.  He was, however, prone to turning the ball over, averaging five TO’s per contest, and his defense against scoring point guards wasn’t stellar.  We’ll give him a pass, for now, because he’s a young player, who still has some room to grow.  What he can’t be excused for is sitting out the playoffs.

Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but the way it looks now, Lin appears to have put a cap on his season to maximize his value in free agency.  He was afraid that if he came back at “85%” in the playoffs, and didn’t perform well, he might lose some of his worth.  The fact of the matter is, the Knicks could have desperately used him against Miami in the first round, but instead it was a quick exit for the Knicks, who are still searching for their first playoff series win since beating the Raptors and Heat in 2000.  If, and that’s a big if, he was angling for more money by holding out, it worked.

Now, if the argument centers around “Lin should be a Knick,” how do we point the finger at the player, and why?  It’s simple really – he pushed himself out of NY. There are two ways we can frame this:  The first, and most likely scenario, is that he had no desire to play with Melo and the rest of the cast in New York.  He saw trouble down the road with Woodson’s new half court system, and a ball stopper at the small forward position that would take shots from Lin at the point, so he made it incredibly difficult for the Knicks to re-sign him.  The second scenario is that he took a calculated risk.  He was originally offered 20 million by the Rockets.  When New York said that it would match, Lin and his agent went back to the Rockets looking for a bigger payday.  He figured that the Knicks would match it no matter what, so he had the Rockets throw in 5 million more.  I have a hard time buying into scenario number two only because the money was added to the third year only.  Lin knew that the Knicks would be in luxury tax hell in 2014-2015, and he made New York signing the offer sheet cost-prohibitive.

So, we’ve talked about Lin part in all of this, but how about the front office? Ultimately, it was Dolan, Grunwald, and Woodson, who put this whole issue to bed, and ended Lin’s time in New York.  Of course it’s a lot more complicated than that.  The front office had to look at the current state of the roster, the luxury tax threshold that they were set to cross in 2014, and the talent of the player in question.  They chose to let him go.  But let’s break it down further.  We’ve already discussed the talent of Jeremy Lin; he would be a clear upgrade over an out of shape Raymond Felton, and an over-the-hill Jason Kidd.  So why let him go?  It’s all about the Benjamin’s baby.  But there had to be a way to make it work, right?

I say yes.  Lin’s poison pill contract would have had him making 14.8 million dollars at the start of the 2014-2015 season, at which time the NBA’s new luxury tax would kick in.  With the tax, and Lin’s base salary, he would have cost New York 43 million in that season alone.  I can understand the hesitation.  But aren’t there other contracts on the Knicks roster that could have been moved or dumped to get them below the luxury line before Lin’s big payday?  Amare, Melo, and Chandler will each make over 15 million in that season, which is more than enough wiggle room for Lin to squeeze in, should one of them leave town.  It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that Amare, with his bulky knees and back, will be retired by then.  It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that a bloated expiring contract like Melo’s or Chandler’s could be moved in that offseason to a team looking for cap clearance.  Heck, if Joe Johnson can get traded, there’s no reason one of those guys couldn’t find a new home.  The worst case scenario is that they’d have to cut Amare (or even Lin) before that start of the luxury tax year.  But even that’s not bad!  With the new “stretch provision,” the team could have spread what was left on either contract over a three year period, thus holding them under the big money line.

What we had here was a failure to communicate.  If, right from the get-go, the Knicks had made an offer, or pulled the phenom point guard aside and said, “We’ll get you your money, but if you want to play here, we need to structure a deal that works for us too,” then none of this would have happened.  Instead, the two sides never spoke to each other, Lin signed an offer sheet, New York told the world they would match it, and then they backed off.  As it stands, Lin looks greedy, the Knicks look like backstabbers, and the Rockets look like bunch of genius’.  How it looks on the court in 2013 and beyond, is anyone’s guess.

The Separation of Skate and State

The moustache... I should have known.

The mustache… I should have known.

Maybe it’s because we’re in an election year.  Maybe it’s because our President just gave the State of the Union address. Heck, maybe it’s just because I feel connected to what’s going on in the world around me.  For whatever reason, Tim Thomas refusing to visit the White House really struck a chord with me.

Now, it’s no secret where my political affiliations lie, I’m a proud democrat, who believes in a liberal social and financial agenda.  And while I support the left, it’s become evident that the Bruins Vezina Trophy winning goalie clearly has a right leaning mentality.  I don’t want to hear that the statement he made to excuse himself from the visit was bipartisan or centrist.  I don’t want to hear that he was speaking out against government as a whole.  Dig a little deeper and you’ll learn that this is a man who rallies around the fear-mongering of conservative talking heads like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.  Tim Thomas chose not to visit the White House because he doesn’t agree with the administration, and I think he made a mistake.

I had to stop for a second when I first read the story.  I was shocked by it, and I just couldn’t find a good justification.  I put myself in this hypothetical situation:  I’m a star athlete (wouldn’t that be nice) and my team is scheduled to make a trip to the Oval Office in the year following a championship run.  Let’s say that we’re in the middle of the previous republican administration.  I can’t imagine a scenario where I’m not standing on that stage with the rest of my teammates shaking hands with President George W. Bush; a man with whom I vehemently disagreed on almost every issue presented during his tenure.  But you don’t have to agree with what he’s done with his time in office, you don’t have to agree with his policies or beliefs, all you have to do it stand there and smile.  And you know, I might even take that opportunity to have a conversation with the man (or woman) making the big decisions.  You just don’t get invited to the White House all that often.

But it goes beyond even turning down an invitation.  We live in a world where news and information are instantly available, and it’s incredibly easy to connect to people in even the remotest of locations.  Because of this far reach, we’re noticing more and more athletes/actors/celebrities taking to the soap box, and spewing their beliefs and ideologies all over the place.  I just can’t seem to set aside my belief that the sporting world isn’t the right place for this.  Turning to an athlete for political advice would be like turning to a politician to take the last penalty shot in an overtime shootout.  It’s something you just don’t do.  Can we take this for what it’s worth?  I say no.  One guy taking a stand to protect what he believes in is one thing, and yes, everyone (Tim Thomas included) has a right to free speech, but just because you have the right, doesn’t make it right.  What TT did on Monday was childish.  He put himself ahead of his team, and turned what was supposed to be a highlight for the city of Boston, and the Bruins organization, into a media circus.

As an athlete, your talent and physical skill get you millions of dollars, the admiration of thousands of fans, and a platform to spread whatever message you choose.  We listen to you, we idolize you, and we cast you as the role model, so you need to be careful with what you say and how your present yourself to the public.  If upon your retirement, you want lobby for republican politics or start your own bigoted talk radio show, then by all means, go right ahead.  But now? Now, your job is not to campaign for the next Republican Presidential nominee, it’s to stop that little, black, rubber disk from making it’s way into the back of the net.  Maybe I’m naïve, or maybe I have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that some of the athletes I root for don’t share my beliefs.  But had Thomas just put politics aside, supported his teammates, and been gracious in receiving an honor from the President of the United States, we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place.

Yoooooooo-ouch!

Maybe I’m crazy.  Maybe I’m completely and totally out of my gourd.  Maybe I’m so wrong that it makes “The Decision” look like a good idea, but isn’t Kevin Youkilis important to the Boston Red Sox?  This seems like an almost redundant question, doesn’t it?  But if that’s truly the case, why is he being handled this way?

Youk has been playing through some pretty severe pain over the last ten days, as he contends with an ankle sprain of unknown severity.  For some unclear reason, Terry Francona and the Sox bigwigs have been trotting him out to play third base in meaningless early June games.  It was most evident in a game against the Milwaukee Brewers last week.  The Red Sox All-Star hit a chopper up the first base line and as he started toward the base, he clearly pulled up and grimaced in pain.  The following half inning, and every inning since, Youk has been out in the field playing a very difficult position that requires agility and a quickness on your feet that he clearly doesn’t have at the moment.

To his credit, and in form with his true competitive nature, he hasn’t let the ankle get the better of him. And perhaps that’s the reason that Francona has left him in games.  But it just doesn’t make sense to have your clean-up hitter playing through pain in June!  Let Youk sit for a couple games, and give one of the two Sox corner infield prospects a shot.  Better yet, let BOTH of them have a chance.

Drew Sutton has performed more than admirably in his time with the big club, hitting .314 while slugging .514 and committing only a single error in 17 games.  Then there’s Yamaico Navarro, who’s currently sitting on a .925 OPS in Pawtucket while playing the hot corner for the Sox.

Here’s my thought: Put Youk on the 15-day DL and call up Navarro.  Insert Navarro against lefties, and Sutton against righties.  The minor leaguer is hitting over .320 against southpaws this season, while Sutton is over .340 against righties.  Hello!  This thing on?  Why risk further injury to one of your most important players, when you have two completely capable backups who could clearly benefit from playing time on the big league level?

I understand the argument that Youk is an integral part of the Red Sox lineup, and that he’s finally catching his stride after an excruciatingly slow start, but let me leave you with a couple more numbers to make my case.  The 2010 Red Sox were 60-44 with Kevin Youkilis in the lineup, and 29-29 without him.  The 2011 version will need to play better than .500 ball if they hope to stay ahead of a very talented Yankee team and a very resilient Tampa team.  Can Theo and Tito really risk losing this guy?  I say no, hot hitter or not.

Trade Bait

The sights, and sounds, and smells of summer are in full swing, but it feels like Christmas!  Christmas in July, that is.  The Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline is under two weeks away, and it’s no secret that July 31st is one of my favorite days of the year.  It takes a lot to win a World Series Championship, and most teams don’t have all the pieces right at the outset.  The trading deadline allows the major players in the league to go out and get those missing pieces that they hope will put them over the top.  The coverage is always completely ridiculous, and now with most of the “insiders” using Twitter, this season promises to be even more in your face.  It’s exciting to follow along to see where the pieces land, which is why it’s so hard for me to say that the Sox need to stand pat.  Momentum can swing in a huge way after this day has come and gone, but as we approach this yearly shift in baseball, a warning: don’t sell the farm.

The Red Sox are in first place in the A.L. East, and show no signs of slowing down over the last three months of the season.  There are a number of positions that are producing at numbers that don’t quite live up to expectations, but we’re alright.  With a one game lead and 68 games to play in the season, the Red Sox will pick up major pieces without having to trade for anyone.  If you run down the roster, there are two positions that you could highlight as trouble spots for the Sox as they head down the stretch—starting-pitching and right field.

As we entered the season, the offense was supposed to be monstrous, and it has been.  So why mess?  Yes, JD Drew has been lackluster at best in right, but with Josh Reddick knocking the cover off the ball, we’ve got a nice platoon out there in right. The two big guns on the trade market, Carlos Beltran and Ryan Ludwick, wouldn’t provide enough of an upgrade to warrant a farm system fire sale, and there will surely be a piece that will pass through waivers later in the summer that Boston could use to spell Drew and Reddick at the 9thposition.  The Sox have scored more runs, have more extra base hits, and have the highest batting average in the majors.  They are who we thought they were, so let’s leave them be.  It’s the starting rotation that had all the question marks back in March.

Is Josh Beckett due for a comeback?  Which Clay Buchholz will we see to start the season?  Do Dice-K and Wakefield have anything left in the tank?  And finally, was the worst free agent pitching contract in Red Sox history signed by John Lackey?  Now that we’ve gone through two-thirds of the season, we can answer a number of those questions.  Yes, Beckett was due for a comeback, and he has been tremendous.  Buchholz isn’t quite as good as his break-out 2010 campaign may have shown, but when healthy, he may be the best number three starter in the league.  Dice-K is done, and Wakefield is spitting straight in the face of father time.  And yes, John Lackey is just plain terrible.  All of that said—the Red Sox don’t need to go out and get a starting pitcher.

When Lester and Buchholz come back from the DL, and it is my personal opinion that we shouldn’t see either of them back in the bigs for at least a month, it will be like they went out and got a true number one and a true number three.  Let’s not forget here people, Boston is in first place in the toughest division in the league.  So Theo, if you’re reading, give those guys some time to get themselves right, trust the team you have, and don’t mortgage the farm to get a starting arm come the deadline.

Melo Madness

Well, it finally happened—Carmelo Anthony got traded to the Knicks. And even though this thing has dragged on for months, upon months, upon MONTHS…I’m still extremely intrigued by the whole process. There are three aspects of the trade and its surrounding implications that had me scratching my head.

The first issue is the trade itself. The Knicks have been so bad for so long, that a near .500 record had Madison Square Garden in a tizzy. But you need to look at it this way: With that same .500 record they would be out of the playoffs in the West. The Knicks have taken advantage of a very weak Eastern Conference, having won 18 of their 28 games against the bottom dwellers in the East.

Now with Melo in the fold, the New York fans are expecting the team to win immediately. And the Knicks are sure to improve, but that improvement aside, they still don’t have the talent or depth to take down one of the East powerhouses, let alone the three they’d need to beat, to make the NBA Finals. What Knick diehards are going to need to come to grips with is that this is still a rebuilding team.

New York put all its eggs into the Lebron basket and came out of the sweepstakes with very little to show for it. Now they’ve got some cap space, and they’ve got two fantastic pieces, but as the Celtics (and now the Heat) have proved—it takes three. The general notion in the sporting world is that either Deron Williams or Chris Paul will be joining the team when they hit free agency in 2012, which is all well and good, but it doesn’t lead to winning in the 2010-2011 season. It does, however, lead me to my next point.

How is it that we have gotten to the point where players can dictate where and how they get to their next destination? I understand the years of service business, and that players have a right to determine where they want to play, but I’m still confused about how the power to put a team together got taken away from the owners, general managers, and coaches.

Look at what happened in Miami. Look at what ALMOST happened with Chris Paul in New Orleans. And now this with Carmelo. More and more we’re seeing players colluding in back rooms and having secret “summits” to put their own super-teams together. Forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn here, but doesn’t that take ALL the fun out of the off-season? If it’s all predetermined, then what’s the point? My hope is that the new CBA being hammered out by the NBA and the Players Association will address this because it’s truly getting out of hand. If the league isn’t careful they’ll end up with six good teams, in the six good markets, and lousy teams throughout the rest of the country

In 2008, the Celtics went out and got Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to team up with Paul Pierce in Boston. The three amigos turned the Celtics around so dramatically that every team in the NBA is now trying to duplicate it. Here’s the difference: the Celtics front office went out and GOT Allen and KG. There was no posturing from Garnett. Allen didn’t come out and say that he was going to refuse a contract extension from Seattle. Boston made a plan, and then they went out and made it happen.

Here’s the part where I sound kind of like a hypocrite. The third aspect of this whole ordeal that caught my attention was that Melo did this completely right! Yes, it’s ridiculous that players are setting themselves up with other players to create incredible teams. But at the same time, Carmelo Anthony did right by his previous organization by letting them know that he had no interest in re-signing. Loosing a superstar to free agency can be brutal for an organization. All I need do is remind you of “The Decision” this past summer.

Lebron James was absolutely skewered by the media, the fans, and even the players in some cases. And for leaving the Cavaliers the way he did, he had every reason to be. Now I’m not trying to compare Cleveland to Denver—the Rocky Mountain sports fan has had a LOT more to cheer about lately—but imagine a world where Carmelo keeps his mouth shut until the end of the year and then bolts from Denver to the Big Apple. The Nuggets are stuck rebuilding for the next seven years if that’s the case. Instead, this savvy player sits down with his GM and says, “Get whatever you can for me. I’ve appreciated my time here, but I need to move on.” And they did—Denver got a great haul for Carmelo from New York.

What bugs me is the guy is getting roasted for it, and I think it was a classy move. Would it have been even classier for him to say that he’d go to wherever the Nuggets front office could get the best deal? Oh, yah. You bet. But that’s what we should be riding him for. Not for giving his former team—a team that drafted him top-five in the first round in 2003—a chance to get pieces back, but for restricting their options.

Melo will take the floor for the first time in a Knicks uniform tonight against the Bucks, and the Garden will surely be electric as they usher in a new era of Knicks basketball. It will certainly be interesting to see how quickly their two stars gel. But while the players get it together on the court, don’t let your eyes stray too far away from the fans, the owners and the media. They all play a huge role in this as well.

The Definition of Class

Watching Armando Galarraga deliver the lineup card to Jim Joyce before today’s game was one of the classiest things I have EVER seen in sports.  In case you missed it…like I did…Armando Galarraga was one out away from throwing the 3rd perfect game in less than a month last night.  Jason Donald hit a weak grounder up the first base line, which pulled Miguel Cabrera off the bag.  Galarraga covered the base and caught the flip from Cabrera a step and a half ahead of the runner.  Cabrera’s arms went up to celebrate, Galarraga’s arms went up to celebrate, and so did the arms of first base umpire Jim Joyce…to signal the runner safe.  Joyce claims that when he made the call, he thought it was correct. It was really close, but with instant replay you can see that the runner was out. If you watch the replay you can see Donald clutching his helmet after the safe call.  Even he knew he was out, and so did the 17,738 fans in attendance.

The human element is a huge part of baseball, and I have to give props to the mummy commissioner of MLB.  Selig came out today and said that he wasn’t going to overturn the call to give Galarraga the perfecto.  And this is the right call.  If we give the power of the official scorer to the Commissioner’s Office, we’re opening up Pandora’s box.  Every fan, player, manager and sports agent will be busting down Selig’s door to change things.  No good.  What Selig has done is say that he’ll review the instant replay rules, and that is a big win for baseball.  I said that human error is a part of the game–yes, but I like giving the umpires the opportunity to fix those mistakes during the course of a game.  Do I know who would be in charge of replay, or what would qualify as a reviewable play?  No.  Do I know if it would slow the pace of play?  No.  What I do know is that if they can get this figured out, mistakes like the one that cost Armando his perfect game would be a thing of the past.  Good on yah, Selig.

Jim Leyland absolutely laid into Joyce after the game ended, not after the play happened.  Of course, he came out and argued, but he waited until Galarraga recorded the 28th out of the game to really let him have it.  And he had every right to.  He was defending his player and trying to protect his place in history.  But I like that he kept his cool during the game and waited until it was over to truly voice his displeasure.  He sent a good message to his team, and in his post-game interview, he sent an even better message to the fans.  Leyland asked Tiger fans not to boo Joyce before the next game, saying that “today’s a day for Detroit to be a class act…today is a day to cheer the integrity of an umpire.”  Mr. Leyland, you sir are classy.

And speaking about the integrity of an umpire–how bout Jim Joyce.  I mentioned earlier that Joyce thought he had made the right call on the field, and I like that.  You need to stand by your decisions.  What I like even more was that he had the courage to watch the play after the game was over and to admit that he made a mistake.  Of course he didn’t want to blow the call.  But he did, and he owned it.  He took history away from a young player, and he could not feel worse about it.  The man was an emotional mess.  He takes pride in what he does, and he’s been praised by players and managers alike for his fair and even calls.  Before his post-game interview, he went so far as to search Galarraga out and personally apologize.  And I know that apologies won’t give the Tigers’ starter his gem back, but Joyce could have huffed and puffed about how it was his call to make and that that is how the game is played.  But he didn’t.  Jim Joyce, you are classy indeed.

Then you have Galarraga–I don’t think anyone could have handled this situation better than he has.  When the play happened he should have flipped.  I would have flipped.  I think any other player would have flipped.  But he didn’t, he sort of wryly smiled and walked back to the mound.  He kept his composure and finished off Trevor Crowe with five more pitches, as Donald took second and third on defensive indifference.  In all of his post-game interviews he didn’t put blame on Joyce, he kept stating that what happened happened and there is no changing it.  Today, Jim Joyce got home plate as his assignment in Detroit, and Galarraga was the one exchanging lineup cards with the umpiring crew and Cleveland’s skipper.  As Armando shook his hand, Joyce started to tear up.  The crowd cheered as he came out of the dugout, and he tipped his cap.  He just wants to move on.  Was he upset?  Of course he was, but he held no ill will, and he showed that in a world where players lie, cheat, and steal to get themselves to the top, there is still just a little bit of integrity left.  And that makes him the classiest of all.